PORTLAND, Maine — Independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler rolled out his education platform during stops in Bangor and Portland on Tuesday.
Cutler, from Cape Elizabeth, is running against incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat from East Millinocket. Michaud is leaving Congress to run for governor.
Touting his support for a “cradle through career” public education system, Cutler said if he is elected he would become known as Maine’s “education governor.”
“We will begin investing again in Maine’s educational excellence and competitiveness so that every child — no matter his or her ZIP code — receives a first-rate education, sees an open pathway to higher education, and finds an opportunity for career training and a good-paying job,” Cutler said in a prepared statement.
Cutler detailed several initiatives he would push for as governor, including increased funding for public schools, a $65 million challenge grants program and an expansion of the state’s magnet school system.
The challenge grants would be used to help bolster learning results in Maine’s poorest schools, expand early childhood education and reward teachers and schools that create successful school environments.
The magnet school expansion would include facilities on University of Maine System properties for programs in marine and environmental science, tourism, arts, agriculture and food science.
Cutler said he would fund the program with $10 million from the state’s property tax relief plan.
Cutler also said his administration would study closely a “pay it forward, pay it back” grant program that would help Maine students afford college with a program that allows them to pay their tuition after they start work.
All three of the candidates tout their proposals for improving Maine’s education system or their existing track record.
LePage’s campaign said he has increased funding for public education while improving school choice for parents by supporting a new law allowing the creation of publicly-funded charter schools.
“School choice should not be just for the wealthy elite” LePage has said. “All Maine students deserve an equal chance of success, whether they live in Cape Elizabeth or Fort Kent. This is how we break the cycle of generational poverty for Maine’s children.”
LePage’s campaign also notes the governor’s efforts to reduce health insurance costs for public school systems.
LePage has also pushed for a five-year high school program in an effort to lower post-secondary education costs for Maine families but has been unable to put a statewide policy in place. His campaign also touts his support of superintendent agreements on student transfers, which can allow families to move their children into a public school system other than the one that serves their immediate community.
LePage has also touted his public school grading program, which annually gives public schools an A-F letter grade based on the performance of their teachers and students.
Meanwhile, Michaud said under his administration the state would meet its public school funding commitment of 55 percent for all schools as prescribed by Maine voters a decade ago.
Michaud has said he would scrap LePage’s letter grade program, which he characterizes as “arbitrary.” Michaud also says he would work to decrease the cost of a college education for Maine families. He supports expanding pre-kindergarten programs for public schools.
Michaud has earned the endorsement of the Maine Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers’ union.
“Too many politicians talk about education as an expense,” Michaud said in November when he received the MEA endorsement. “It’s not. It’s an investment in our future and we owe it to our children to do everything we can to ensure they all have access to a quality public education – regardless of ZIP code.”
Cutler’s and Michaud’s rhetoric may sound similar but a big difference between the two candidate’s education proposals, according to Cutler, is that he has identified a way to pay for his.
Cutler said LePage should be given credit for some of his ideas, including his push for five-year high schools and improved technical education around apprenticeships.
“Those are good ideas and we ought to continue them, but we need to do so much more to make Maine’s education system the driving force to create a trained and educated workforce,” Cutler said.